"I don't think I've ever been so angry about anything," said the caller, who identified herself as a longtime government worker. "They have the nerve to threaten us with furloughs" while their own Capitol Hill salaries are slated to go up -- automatically -- by 25 percent next year. She was the first of many who called yesterday reacting to the budget situation. She said it was strange being threatened with furloughs two weekends in a row, and trying to explain to her husband, who is on duty in Saudi Arabia, what is going on in Washington.

Another caller said, "The problem has been that the budget summit group can't seem to agree on anything. But I'll tell you one thing they did agree on: Ignore the public! I wrote all 20 members of the budget summit group -- used up a $5 book of stamps. Do you know how many responded to my letters? None! I think that says something."

One caller, a Food and Drug Administration doctor, took the direct approach. She called several senators and House members as well as the White House comment line about the budget flap. She said FDA

"lost a record number of professionals in August" due to retirements and that the agency is having trouble getting and keeping good people. "They say they want the best, and then they tell us we are subject to furloughs because we aren't essential."

While the doctor didn't reach the president or any members of Congress she did talk to staff members, with varying degrees of satisfaction. "The office of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was the most understanding," she said. "They seemed to be interested in what I had to say . . . and about my concerns.

"When I called the office of Sen. Richard Lugar {R-Ind.}, a staffer said, in effect, what was I worrying about since I didn't actually get furloughed! I explained how difficult it was working under such conditions. He said, 'You are free to leave anytime you want.'

"I called the White House comment line. It took 12 tries to get through. I wonder why. The person who took my call was very hostile. They listened to me and then said, 'Your comment is not worth passing on' to the president." Lump-Sum Option

Retirement-age workers remain in the dark as to what the most recent budget agreement means to the popular lump-sum pension option. Last week's budget plan made it appear that Congress intended to eliminate the benefit as of Nov. 1. Absent written instructions, officials said they assumed workers had until Oct. 31 to retire and qualify for the lump-sum benefit.

The new budget agreement doesn't say anything about the lump-sum benefit. Instead, it assigns dollar cuts to be made by the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee. The cuts are similar to those that would have been achieved by eliminating the lump-sum benefit. The best guess is that the benefit will be eliminated or altered as of Nov. 1. But that -- thanks to the unspecific nature of the new budget plan -- isn't very helpful to people whose retirement decisions hinge on the availability of the lump-sum option.